It’s no secret that influencer marketing is booming. No matter which social channel you turn to, influencers have cultivated a steady presence and loyal audiences -- and brands are noticing. In fact, 63% of marketers are planning to increase their influencer marketing spend over the next year alone.
While influencer marketing has been expanding for many years, 2020 will be remembered as the year that solidified its role in the marketing mix. We saw newcomers like TikTok explode to mainstream popularity, adding a new batch of rising stars to the rich influencer ecosystem rooted in platforms like YouTube, Instagram, and Twitch. As a result of the pandemic, traditional celebrities and marketers shifted their focus to influencer strategies, eager to reach homebound, content-hungry audiences amid production halts.
Additionally, platforms initially adopted by younger audiences, like TikTok, are now resonating across generations. With more free time at the height of stay-at-home orders, 80% of consumers across the UK primarily turned to online content for entertainment (i.e. YouTube). Further, TikTok is no longer dominated by teens -- older Millennials joined the app in droves, with the audience share of 35- to 44 year-olds surging from 13.9% to 17.1%. Families quarantining together are bonding over the latest video trends, breaking down the notion that trendy social media is limited to teens and young adults.
Whether it's the sheer amount of fresh content or new audiences glued to platforms, now is the perfect time for brands looking to embrace influencer marketing to take the plunge, and, for those who are already experimenting, to enhance and optimise influencer campaigns using data and Artificial Intelligence (AI).
Choosing an influencer partner
At its core, influencer marketing is a business of human interaction. The trust between a creator and their audience is borrowed by brands to help build brand equity or drive deeper engagement. From pioneers like YouTube to breakouts like TikTok, there’s a multitude of platforms, each teeming with creators. For marketers, analysing this vast content landscape can be intimidating, and narrowing down the most effective opportunities is largely left to guesswork.
To launch the most effective campaigns, brands wanting to invest in influencer marketing should look to AI to make sense of this content landscape and inform choices about influencer partners who will drive the strongest results. At a high level, AI takes the massive amounts of data marketers have accumulated, long-standing industry techniques, and insight on the creators themselves and makes data-driven recommendations on potential influencer engagements. While human expertise is still needed to develop influencer relationships, AI offers marketers tremendous aid, sifting through tedious data so brands can make decisions with confidence and put their energy into more creative processes.
Like with any technology partner, however, brands should strive for solutions that push the envelope, avoiding companies that use AI as only "matching software." Ultimately, pairing openly available demographics data to a brands’ target audience is only part of the story, as it doesn’t offer new insight around how the content performs, or identify new audience segments.
Rather, brands should seek AI solutions that not only use data to determine ideal partnerships, but also have the capacity to predict success metrics. This requires analysing both structured and unstructured data. Structured data is audience behaviours, demographics, and conversions, where unstructured data spans visual and audio elements of the content itself. When combined, this analysis offers brands novel insights that help them uplevel engagements. This is the type of solution a brand should be seeking: one that is able to take what metrics matter to the brand itself based on its goals and synthesize them into actionable insights. Ultimately, choosing an AI provider that can predict results grants brands an extra layer of confidence before launching campaigns and can help enhance content to ensure the strongest conversions.
Predicting success with AI
While massively beneficial, predicting the success of influencer campaigns is no easy feat. To do so requires tremendous amounts of data. At BEN, for example, we have over 10 years of historical data on the influencer space, which our AI uses to make data-driven recommendations based on a brand’s unique goals. From there, our AI can accurately predict real campaign results, spanning across the marketing funnel, from views and click through rates (CTRs), to conversions.
It's crucial to find an AI solution that provides precise, actionable insights when starting a campaign. With these highly accurate predictions, marketers are able to better project engagement and additional key metrics for new projects, freeing them to focus on developing the relationship with the influencer and aid in the content creation itself.
Electronic Arts, for example, partnered with BEN for the stealth launch of its Apex Legends title, activating an influencer campaign with the world’s top streamers. Through a series of creative activations, including early access to Apex Legends for the influencers, the campaign resulted in more than 60 million views and 25 million downloads in the first week, beating out the game’s top competitor, Fortnite. Prior to the campaign, BEN’s deep-learning model predicted the results with precision -- missing by only 22,000 views -- a 99.58% accuracy rate. Backed by accurate campaign predictions, brands like Electronic Arts can choose creator partnerships with confidence and feel secure about their ROI.
Data plays an even bigger role in influencer marketing than just surfacing potential partnerships or predicting results. In fact, using unstructured data unlocks a deeper, miniscule layer of analysis that determines why specific partnerships work.
Using sophisticated AI algorithms, we’re able to analyse unstructured data and take these insights to enhance overall results. For example, we can review a variety of influencer profiles on Instagram and pick out similar creators based solely on aesthetics, like filters or grid lay-outs. Or, it can even be something more subtle, such as whether text used on screen contributed to conversions. Through sourcing the creative directly, we’re able to understand minute, nuanced variants of the content itself.
These insights then allow marketers to enter a partnership trusting that the creative core of influencer’s content is a good fit for the brand. This usually eases concerns from the brand that might drive them to try and control the creative, either through lengthy approval processes or a laundry list of requirements for the final product. In turn, this trust creates authentic content with a common goal at the center: to have the audience respond positively to the creator and brand.
Additionally, analysing unstructured data post-campaign allows brands to better refine partnerships in the future. Chatbooks, an online photo print, card and book service, experienced this firsthand when they enlisted the help of BEN for an influencer campaign aimed at driving app installs and purchases. By looking at the creative directly, they determined differences in how the audience reacted to the creator interacting with the brand, like showing a still image of the photo book, compared to flipping through the product.
As important as the human side of influencer marketing is, enlisting the help of AI grants brand marketers the opportunity to focus on critical creative decision making, rather than sorting through hours and hours of data to no avail. Overall, whether you’re a brand looking to play in influencer content for the first time, or a veteran of the space working to enhance partnerships, investing in AI solutions that uplevel campaigns and provide confidence is crucial to staying ahead in this ever-expanding industry.
Kelvin Cery is head of client development and brand partnerships, Europe at BEN